WHY A HOME GYM?
I didn’t really start working out in earnest until university. But when I started it was kinda like everything else I do: I went all-in.
If I’m honest, I’d have to admit spending more time working out than studying. I was never the biggest or buffest, but I’d be in there for hours with my good friends, egging each other on towards pain and suffering (“Bet you can’t bench twice your weight”) and, of course, the casual injury. Ahhhh … the joy of youth 🙂
After graduating University I got a membership at a local gym. How could I go wrong with access to a 24hr workout facility? It was good for a while but when winter hit, it got harder and harder to get myself to the gym. I still did it, partly for the social aspect of getting out of the house (I was still living with my parents like a good Asian boy). But after a couple of years, I began to realize I was falling out of love with prettying myself up and the rest of the efforts of dragging myself to the gym. Not to mention the cost of monthly membership fees, gas, time, funky smells, and my impatience in waiting for a bench or machine to be free.
When Quin and I married and moved into our first house, it made total sense to start investing in our own home gym.
So it began: piece by piece we started what has now become our workout haven. Nothing fancy, but indispensable to our health and fitness.
Over the years we’ve tried a lot of equipment and workouts, shed excess gear and stuck to what’s worked.
We’re here to share our essential home gym equipment. But first, a couple of caveats so you know where we’re coming from.
Caveat 1: We live in Canada – blessed with lots of land (second in landmass only to Russia) and less populated than the single state of California.
What does this mean? It means we have plenty of space in our home for a home gym!
CANADIAN WIN YO! 🙂
Caveat 2: We live in Canada – blessed with four seasons where winter bring piles of snow and bone-chilling cold. Getting out into the great outdoors can be a challenge when there’s a blizzard (like today). Heck: I’m such a wimp that rain pretty much makes me want to stay inside and curl up with my blog roll and a good cup of coffee.
Caveat 3: We’re not fitness models, trainers or consultants. Just your average Not-So-Ancient Chinese husband/wife. Having two growing boyz to chase after has been great incentive for us both to keep fitness a priority and this is how we do it.
Now with that out of the way, it’s time to discuss what exactly our goals are.
We like to keep our fitness goals basic: to efficiently workout, have fun, and to fix and prevent injury. We like to tackle this on two prongs: cardio (heart health) and weights (functional strength).
Now that we know what we want to do, it’s time to find a place to do it.
First step: figure out where you want to build your home gym.
Tight for space? We’ll tackle space-saving and travel equipment in another post, but regardless of space, my best advice is to make your home gym *extremely* accessible.
Ours is right next to our home office. We work a *lot* of hours behind our computers, so having our home gym staring at us as we work is a constant reminder to get our workout in.
When I’m super-pressed for time, I often use the Pomodoro technique to focus on work in 25 minutes chunks followed by a 5 minutes break where I sneak in a workout set. Over the course of a busy day those 5 minute workouts add up and my body is happier with the break from the desk.
Making your workout space a part of your primary living space = easier access = less excuses = more use = more fitter you.
WHERE BONUS ROUND: Flooring and Mirrors …
Not a necessity, but if you can, choosing the right flooring will make your workout time even more painless. Carpet will get matted down and soaks up sweat – gross but true. You’ll also likely want something to protect your floor from dropped weights or other mishaps while also being easy to clean and care for.
We currently have interlocking foam mats covering our carpeted workout area. They’re nice and cushy and easy to clean, but after lots of Insanity DVD workout side-to-side sprints the foam has stretched, deforming into waves. They’ve been taped together on the bottom-side since the start but that didn’t help prevent the waviness. If I had to do all over again, I’d recommend heavier, one-piece rubber/foam flooring.
Another highly recommended piece of equipment: a full-length mirror.
Vanity aside, how will you know if you’re executing with proper form without a mirror? You won’t. Instead of impressing gym-friends by lifting the heaviest set of weights, focus on performing each and every movement with perfect form. And without a personal trainer next to you, following even the best DVD program with bad form won’t let you maximize your workout let alone prevent injury.
I had a custom 8×4 glassless mirror made for our home gym. For safety reasons, I didn’t want glass all over a wall (two boyz and a wall of glass. Hello?). Glassless mirrors were developed for the aerospace industry, are super-light, safe (fire rated and no glass) and highly reflective (more so than glass since there’s no … glass). It’s essentially a light metal frame filled with foam with the special reflective material (like a shiny balloon) stretched and heat-shrunk around it all. The lightweight frame makes moving even an 8×4 glassless mirror a (very careful) one-man job and securing it onto a standard wall a breeze.
One big problem: they’re really easily damaged.
My first mirror arrived with a bent frame. Doesn’t sound like much, but because the material is stretched tightly around the metal frame, the reflection is badly deformed by even the slightest nick in the frame.
The company was good enough to replace it (yay for insured shipping!).
Since its arrival the fragile surface has suffered dents and pokes from errand weight, plastic arrows and paper airplanes. It’s still functional and definitely the safest option around kiddos, but wish it was a bit more robust against minor hits.
Now on to the exercise equipment!
CARDIO EQUIPMENT …
Weather permitting, our first choice is to get out into the great outdoors and do hill sprints.
In the winter: notsomuch. When weather doesn’t cooperate, it’s time for treadmill sprints!
We purchased the Livestrong LS13.0T treadmill last year and couldn’t be happier. It’s not a cheapy but comes with a lifetime replacement warranty on the frame and, more importantly, the motor. This model has a powerful motor, decent incline (up to 14) and bonus: the track folds up and out of the way. Space-saving win! Raising and lowering the track is aided by hydraulics so though I’ve scared the boyz from touching it, I’m not *that* worried that they’ll be crushed if they accidentally mess with it.
STRENGTH TRAINING EQUIPMENT …
Over the years I’ve sold my olympic set of weights, got rid of a nice “total-gym” system and am happily settled with a simple set of hex dumbbells. They’re relatively inexpensive, more versatile, and engage more muscles than many expensive all-in-one home-gym systems. I’m also not looking to bench 300 lbs anymore so a relatively humble set of dumbbells from 5-50 lbs is more than enough.
How about those cool Bowflex adjustable dumbbells? The Bowflex gets good reviews and if you’re tight on space looks like a great option. But having that long adjustable bar won’t allow you to carry your weights as close to your body as a good simple set of hex dumbbells. This limits your carrying options and won’t allow for best form during certain exercises. With all the different weights and parts, they’ll also rattle a bit in use. Hex dumbbells are essentially purpose-formed iron and won’t rattle or roll away. Having an entire set of hex dumbbells also means you can workout with others vs the Bowflex’s single pair of handles.
In the pic above you can see a couple of simple round adjustable weights on our rack which were “legacy” weights I’ve owned for over 20 years. Their only advantage is adjustability. But they (a) take longer to adjust than just grabbing the right weight and (b) rattle once the weights loosen themselves during use. This type of dumbbell bar is also long, creating the same problem as the Bowflex in cramping close-body grip exercises. I don’t like using them as much as the hex irons but they’ve found a space on our rack for in-between weights or duplicates of weights Quin and I use simultaneously (yes: Quin is that strong!)
Another huge benefit of simple hex dumbbells: they last. Our set of basic cheap irons has served us well for 14 years and counting. I bought mine locally for about $1/pound and although the paint chips off when you bang them together, considering the bang for the buck and years of service, I would definitely recommend them.
If I didn’t already own a set, I’d seriously consider this rubberized hex dumbbell set. The rubber is easier on floors and racks and wouldn’t chip like my cheap bare iron set does. I’ve used sets like this and really like the ergonomic and grippy handles, making for a better workout experience overall.
Speaking of the dumbbell rack, I love ours and highly recommend one. It’s not just a nicety to keep your weights off the floor, but makes quick-changing of weights easy and safe. Having all the weights lined up prevents using the wrong weight – too light and you won’t get the burn you’re after; too heavy and you risk poor form or, worse, injury. I like having the heavier weights easily accessible on the top rack. That way I don’t have to bend down and risk throwing my back out near the end of a heavy-ish set when I’m most prone to injury.
If budget is a concern, consider starting with 3 pairs of your most-used hex dumbbell weights (say, 10, 15 and 20 lbs). You can always add more weights and a rack later. But it’s a great system that you can grow with your needs and budget.
For pull-ups, that means the bar should accommodate a variety of hand grips both wide and narrow with palms facing together, away or toward your torso.
For a workout bench, it means stability first. Having the option to incline and decline is great but only if it doesn’t come at the sacrifice of a rock-solid base.
HOME GYM WIN …
While a set of weights and good treadmill are investments in money and space, we’ve come to love our home gym. It’s easy to justify the cost when you consider the flexibility to workout at any time and the money saved on monthly gym memberships, gas, and time.
I like the saying, “Buy once. Cry once.” Invest in right pieces for your home gym and you’ll be rewarded for years to come. Your family’s fitness is worth it!